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Is unplugging the solution to real connections?

Grace Wachira @yaa_grace

Being online seems to be the modern-day addiction. Millenials are bearing the addicts brunt heavily, though they are not the only ones who are active online. As of December 2016, estimates from the Communications Authority indicated that 89.7 per cent of Kenya’s population was using the Internet.

Kenya was ranked the second when it came to countries that use the Internet the most. This may look and seem right in that we are a fast-developing country, but it comes at an expense.

Nowadays living and leaving without your gadget is dreadful. How will you get through the day without chatting? Or without responding to tags on Facebook or Instagram? Where will you get the daily dose of entertainment without WhatsApp groups?

Relationships foot the pricey advancement in technology. It has become easier to be social on Snapchat than in person. Making conversation behind our smartphones and keying in emojis the order of the thread.

This unlikely happens in real-life because social media interactions are largely artificial. “In our home, my parents, especially my mum set down some ground rules,” Vanessa Wambui, a campus student says. She, like all her peers, is social media savvy. “I am on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp,” quips the 22-year-old. Her younger brother is big on YouTube.

“We have WiFi at home so, we mostly used to stream movies and music before our mother stepped in and told us to tone down how much we are online, especially during meal time,” Vanessa says. In their household, they have family time.

“At first it was kind of annoying and hard because surfing was much more interesting until my dad bought us board games and cards,” she smiles. Now, they can go without their tablets and phones at home and gradually, even when they leave the house they are not as glued to their gadgets as before.

Not once have friends who chat endlessly behind their smartphones met up in person and wallowed in dumb awkward silence. “The other day my friend and I walked into a restaurant to have fries. The table behind us had some girl buried in her gizmo while her supposed date talked to her. Imagine she was responding while texting,” says a perplexed Jane Awiti.

Dr Gidraph Wairire, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, notes that as a society, we have to appreciate the fact that the Internet is here with us and that it is here to stay. “The society has changed and technology has brought its benefits as well. It is not a new dynamic shift in the society,” he says.

“We have the right to choose who to associate with without coercion,” Dr Wairire adds. Sometimes it’s the nature of the interaction. “If the interaction is not meaningful, naturally, people will not feel the need to involve themselves in the conversation. So, you have to make that time meaningful,” he continues, “Innovation is key, especially with the generation today.

No one is obliged to entertain anyone at all, but sometimes, the intervention depending on different households and individuals works and keeps life in motion.” “It goes beyond just having structure during the time you spend with someone be it at family level or when on a date. The question of value kicks in. How much do you value the people you are hanging out with?

Is it enough to drop my phone and attend to it later? Even when such ground rules are set in the house, interpersonal relationships need to be maintained and nurtured,” Wairire adds. Social media is a product of social change.

“Before you decide to unplug and detox from social media, take time to understand the vices of too much indulgence of the same before you bash too much online activity. Whether you are out with friends or family or at a meeting, as long as the interaction is not deemed purposeful, people will not be involved,” Dr Wairire cites.

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